(Bloomberg) — McKinsey & Co. faces Kentucky and West Virginia school districts’ lawsuits alleging the company’s work for opioid makers fed an epidemic that harmed children and drove up educational costs, in the first such cases by educators against the consulting firm.
McKinsey’s advice to opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma LP on ramping up sales of the highly addictive painkillers made it the “primary architect” of marketing campaigns that resulted in millions of opioid users’ addictions over the last 20 years, the suit on behalf of more than 170 Kentucky school districts says.
Those ailments led to a jump in the numbers of special-need students resulting from in-utero opioid addictions, forcing districts across the U.S. to spent billions for extra supports, according to the suits, filed this week.
“Because of the defendant’s egregious wrongdoing, for the last two decades, public schools have been shouldering a most profound and enduring consequence of the nationwide opioid epidemic,” according to the Kentucky complaint.
The suits come in the wake of McKinsey’s decision this year to pay $641 million to U.S. states to settle claims over its opioid consulting work. Local governments sued, fearing they will be denied a payout from the deal.
“We believe the settlement we entered into with the states also resolves claims that may be brought by municipalities or school districts,” DJ Carella, a McKinsey spokesman, said Thursday in an emailed statement.
Some state attorneys general argue that McKinsey’s accord provides funds to combat opioid addictions and address the fallout from overdose deaths. Researchers have found more than 400,000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses over the last 20 years.
The West Virginia suit accuses McKinsey of helping to create a public nuisance by working with manufactures to help flood the state with painkillers. The firm’s opioid consulting led to a spike in cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which left babies addicted to opioids in the womb, according to the suit. The condition often produces students that need “extra interventions and supports throughout their education,” the suit said.
“The number of these children has increased exponentially since the onslaught of the opioid epidemic and shows no signs of slowing,” West Virginia educators argue.
A federal judge in Charleston, West Virginia, is now hearing evidence in an opioid case against the largest U.S. drug distributors brought by two municipalities.
The West Virginia case is Board of Education of Mason County v. McKinsey & Co., 21-cv-00280, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia (Huntington). The Kentucky case is Board of Education of Jefferson County v. McKinsey & Co., 21-cv-282, U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky (Louisville).